First SC flu death as cases spike early

A child from Barnwell County is the first person in the state to die of influenza this year, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

"The flu can be especially serious for the very young and the elderly," said Linda Bell, M.D. and interim state epidemiologist. "Our latest statewide activity report indicates that influenza has quickly reached 'widespread' levels in South Carolina."

"Flu activity typically peaks in February, and it is very unusual for us to see this number of cases so early in the season. Therefore, we strongly encourage vaccination to prevent the flu and its potentially serious consequences," said Bell.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu can cause mild to severe illness and can be deadly --- especially to vulnerable people including the very young and the elderly. Symptoms can include a sudden onset of fever, dry cough, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, sore throat, and nasal congestion or stuffiness.

"Your body needs about two weeks to build its best protection after receiving the flu vaccine," Dr. Bell said, "so you should get vaccinated as soon as possible. This year's vaccine appears to be well matched to the circulating influenza strains and is expected to provide good protection. We recommend vaccination for everyone 6 months and older."

Dr. Bell added that other flu prevention guidelines include:

· Staying away from people who are sick.

· Staying home from work, school and errands if you are sick. You will help keep others from getting sick, too.

· Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Use a tissue if one is handy. Throw it away immediately after use. Otherwise, use your upper sleeve.

· Washing your hands often and thoroughly.

· Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when someone touches something that is covered with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.

"Other good habits include getting plenty of sleep, engaging in physical activity, managing stress, drinking water and eating good food to help you stay healthy in the winter and all year," she said.

For more information on the flu, click here. To find a vaccination clinic near you, click here.